Wednesday, February 16, 2011

God Time

It's a topic many Christians subconsciously avoid in conversation: the daily devotional. We talk about it in vague terms, asking each other things like, "How is your walk with God?" or "What is God teaching you these days?" Then we answer in equally nebulous language, sidestepping the fact that our devotional life is sporadic. Spiritual "checking in" conversations often don't even touch on whether we have read the Bible recently (does Bible study count?) and the fact that most of us usually forget to pray unless we're in trouble. We all understand: we're busy people! Life is hectic. How can we fit in a spiritual practice into the daily craziness?

I admit, I am one of those people who evade questions about my spiritual practice. Lately, though, I have made an effort to stop making excuses and start having some meaningful devotional time. My mom sent me a book for Christmas called When You Pray by Reuben P. Job. It contains small devotional tidbits for each week of the Revised Common Lectionary, along with short Bible readings for each day of the week. I'll admit, she sent it to me around Week 4 of the book, and it took me until Week 12 to actually crack it open. But I finally did after I had an epiphany: I realized I have spent every morning on the bus to work surfing Facebook on my iPhone and texting friends and family. That's approx. 20-25 minutes every day that I could spend differently. The Reuben Job book is small enough to pass for a Kindle, so I can slip it into my purse and do my devotions en route.

I quickly discovered that I would not be reading my Bible passage before grabbing my bagel (still hot, ow!) and making a run for the bus stop. So I need a portable copy of the Bible that I can read while on the bus. Luckily, I found this amazing Bible and study tool on the App Store by OliveTree. The $.99 app comes with the King James Version already loaded, naturally, because copyright laws didn't exist in 1611. So for $9.99 you can get an extension for the New International Version, and for $13.99 you can get the New Revised Standard Version. The NRSV is the most scholarly translation on the market, so I sprang for the NRSV extension. It helped that my mother-in-law had given me a $15 iTunes gift card! Thanks to her generous gift, I read the Bible on my iPhone this morning while hurtling into another part of the city.

By the time I'm crossing the Charles River for the second time, I'm done reading and ready to pray. This past Sunday, I committed to pray for my fellow church member and former seminary professor, Dr. Inus Daneel. He is a missionary to Zimbabwe for 6 months out of every year, but the worsening situation there forced him to relocate to South Africa during his 2010 trip. Inus has just returned to South Africa and plans to visit Zimbabwe. Every morning, when I take time to pray for Inus and those he engages, I am aware that they are in a whole different world thousands of miles away. Yet God connects us at all times, and I remember that when I pray for them.

Granted, it's dangerous to blog about my spiritual practice, having done it only three times. I'm hoping this will be an ongoing way to set aside time for reflection and prayer. It's only 20 minutes of reading a few Bible verses and a spiritual quote, and praying. Yet it makes all the difference in my day. I've been more inclined to thank my bus driver for his good driving, and I walk into the office with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. In 20 minutes, I could watch an episode of one of my favorite shows, Big Bang Theory, on my Netflix app. I could surf Facebook. I could check my email. But when I use that same snippet of time to read and pray, my whole outlook changes.

It strikes me that recent technology allows me to take my devotional time anywhere- even on a noisy, crowded, and sometimes smelly city bus. Has technology made it easier to find quiet time? Or has its omnipresence made it harder to find time and space for prayer?

How do you experience technology's influence on your life? Is it helpful or hurtful to your spiritual practice?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

An Un-Manifesto

When my friend, Jeremy, started his blog, he published a Manifesto explaining the name for his blog and what it was going to be about. This blog isn't quite as well-focused, but there will be some recurring themes. Its name, God Talk, means that this is a place to talk about God, and it's a place to talk about us too. For now, I'm the main author, so some of the content will reflect some of my interests and spiritual practices. You can expect posts on:

- God in the world/ in our lives
- The arts
- Christian service/ social justice
- Being a Methodist

If you've stumbled upon this blog and don't know much about being Methodist, fear not! There's a post in the works about what it means to be a Methodist. :o)

It seems that Wednesdays have been good times to post. They're after the beginning of the week, so by that point I've already digested Sunday's sermon and my spiritual thoughts for the week are percolating. Although I was not able to post regularly in January due to illness, I hope to be posting regularly on Wednesdays from here on out..

So that's it. I hope to tell some stories, share some experiences, discuss other bloggers' thoughts, and hopefully, we can come up with some of our own thoughts. I look forward to growing in faith with you!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snowed In

Tonight I was wandering through the online sections of my local paper, the Boston Globe, and stumbled upon a story: another snowstorm is going to hit our area in a few days. My spouse and I groaned. Another one? It all started with the Blizzard of 2010, a major weather event that buried the East Coast in two feet of snow.  Another one came on its heels and dumped another couple of feet. Then another snowstorm came last week. Work was not canceled. There is no more room in the streets for the snow, and cars are completely buried. Bostonians are fed up with the snow, and a fourth storm is on the way. This one is supposed to slam the Midwest with snow and ice. Some of you, if you live in Ashland, might find also yourselves snowed in. All this snow is getting tiresome. I'm starting to feel walled in by snow.

The revolution in Egypt this past week has taught me about the grinding poverty in Egypt, and helped me to see why the rebellion is happening. The people there are angry because the government has failed them so profoundly. They do not have basic services that Americans take for granted, like public education, help to buy food and yes, even semi-reliable public transportation. Egyptians are also angry because their government is corrupt and dishonest. Mubarak claims it is a democracy- but he has been "re-elected" for more than 30 years! Egypt is actually a corrupt dictatorship.

Even though I don't know what it's truly like to live in Egypt, I'm feeling fed-up like the Egyptians. For them, there's no end in sight. Young people don't have the education they need, they have no job prospects in sight, and the exorbitant costs of living compared to actual income make them feel trapped. They despair of ever climbing out of poverty. When you're poor, the devastating blows just keep coming.

The cries of my weather-wearied psyche and the angry cries of Egyptian protests remind me of a refrain found in Scripture: "how long, O Lord?" The plight of the Egyptians sounds a lot like the prophet Habakkuk's use of this refrain in Habakkuk 1:2-4:

Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
   and you will not listen?
Or cry to you ‘Violence!’
   and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
   and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
   strife and contention arise.
So the law becomes slack
   and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
   therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

Habakkuk probably prophesied in 7th century Israel (BCE), which was before the Babylonians conquered Israel in 586 BCE. When he cried out to God, the worst was yet to come! He begged for deliverance even before his people were chained and deported.

Surely the Egyptians are fed up with facing the economic violence done to themselves and their families by the corrupt government. Only they've been feeling this way for 36 years! They have realized that "the law becomes slack... therefore judgment comes forth perverted."And enough was enough a long time ago. Yet their journey to freedom and a truly democratic state will be a long one. For those who are now crying out for deliverance, the wait will be a long one.

By comparison, my complaining about the weather seems silly. It's the same feeling though. January is only now ending, and the relative hardships I face in this bitter cold and walls of snow will not go away anytime soon. I have to sit here for awhile.

The comfort in this is that even when everything is totally out of my control, I can cry out to God. My circumstance might not change. But how I feel about it might change, because I know I've got a God who cares about what I'm going through. Even though there are Coptic Christians in Egypt suffering more than I, God cares about what I'm facing too. God listens to both of us, Christians half a world apart, when we pray. So here I sit, but I'm not sitting alone.